1. Global warming, Climate change
4 Greenhouse effect gas
5 GAs adv
Since the 1980s, there has been a growing body of evidence to suggest that industrialisation is having an effect on the climate of the planet. As concern has grown, a number of international bodies have been set up to research the issue, and more recently a series of treaties have been established to help curb the emission of so-called ‘greenhouse gases’. The most important of these was the 1997 Kyoto Protocol (see below for a link to the full text of the agreement) as part of which the European Union, the USA and Japan agreed to reduce their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The protocol has come under attack from both sides – many environmentalists feel that it does not really address the threat of global warming, while many in industry feel it is an unnecessary burden.Global warming is a particularly difficult issue as it demands a world-wide response. Many developing nations are understandably angered that a problem that seems to have been created by the rich, developed nations will have most impact on them. A global consensus remains far off.
1. Over the past 100 years, mankind has been burning increasing quantities of fossil fuels (such as coal and oil) to provide energy. This has released large volumes of a number of gases into the atmosphere, particularly CO2. At the same time, the world’s remaining large forests – which help absorb CO2 – are being rapidly destroyed by commercial logging and to make way for farm land. Overall, the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have increased by 30% over the last century.When in the atmosphere, CO2 and other gases are thought to lead to a ‘greenhouse effect’: they allow sunlight to pass through, but absorb heat emitted by the earth, trapping it and leading to global warming. Weather records seem to support this theory. Average temperatures have increased by up to 0.6°C since the 19th century; the four hottest years since accurate records began have all been in the last decade. Unusual weather patterns such as floods and droughts have also been on the increase, with the uncharacteristically strong El Niño events of recent years causing widespread disruption. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international body set up to study possible global warming, has concluded that „… the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate.“
2. Computer models predict that continued global warming could have catastrophic effects. Changes in temperature could devastate wildlife, as local vegetation dies off. Patterns of disease could change – already, isolated cases of malaria have been reported far north of traditional danger zones as warmer weather allows the mosquitoes which carry the disease to spread. Most importantly, a portion of the polar ice caps might melt and lead to a rise in sea level, which has already increased by between 10 and 25cm in the last 100 years. Giant cracks have been found in the Larsen ice shelf in Antarctica, which suggest that it is breaking apart; a section 48 miles wide and 22 miles long drifted free and melted as early as 1994. If, as experts suggest, temperatures rise a further 3°C over the next century, low-lying areas of land and even entire countries – such as Bangladesh – could disappear under the waves.
3. Technology has now reached the point where we can continue to develop standards of living throughout the world without needing to burn fossil fuels. Renewable sources of energy – such as wind or solar power – are ripe for development, but have yet to see the levels of investment needed to make them truly effective. More efficient use of energy is also vital. Encouraging developments such as electric cars, or promoting better insulation of houses, could make a substantial difference in the long run. Moreover, after the initial costs, greater efficiency would actually be economically beneficial.
4. Global warming is a world-wide catastrophe waiting to happen: the emission of greenhouse gases affects everyone. It is therefore vital that the entire world responds now. The targets set by the Kyoto protocol will barely scratch the surface of the problem. Only minimal reductions were agreed to by the developed world, and no real agreement was reached involving the developing world, which is producing a greater percentage of greenhouse gas emissions every year.Gases such as CO2 remain in the atmosphere for centuries. If we wait until we can see the results of global warming, it may be too late – the damage will have been done, and reducing emissions then will have no effect for generations. We therefore must act now, and we must act globally. Developed countries must do all they can to reduce their use of fossil fuels. They must assist developing nations to do the same, by sharing technology or perhaps through ’emissions trading’ – allowing poorer countries to sell their quota of pollution in return for hard cash. International pressure must be exerted against those countries which do not co-operate; even if this slows economic growth, it is the poorest regions in the world which would suffer most from more droughts and floods and rising sea-levels. However difficult it may be in the short term, it may save millions of lives in the future.
1. That mankind is causing global
warming is far from being a proven fact. It is true that records show that average temperatures have increased over this century; however, temperatures actually dropped slightly between the 1930s and the 1970s. This was not associated with a reduction in fossil fuel emissions – in fact, they were increasing over this period. If the ‘greenhouse gases’ are responsible for global warming, how can this be?Accurate records simply do not cover a long enough period to be useful. The earth’s average temperature varies naturally through time, and we so far have few or no good explanations to explain events such as the ice ages. Indeed, there was a ‘mini-ice age’ around four hundred years ago, during which the Thames in London repeatedly froze over during winter; this was followed by an intensive but natural period of ‘global warming’. We do not have enough information to say that current trends are not simply natural variation.